Before the advent of fast foods , the only refuge for a hungry Filipino who is in need of immediate sustenance that is affordable and ready to eat is the carenderia.
A common sight in almost every corner of a town street would be a stall or the ground floor of a house which displays a variety of home cooked dishes. There would be a table or two under a makeshift awning held up by a bamboo pole. One can buy food to be brought home or one can sit down at a table and eat right there. This is known as the carenderia.
Most carenderias are run by home cooks, thus the dishes served are familiar comfort food.
In Cebu, the usual fare consist of Inun-unan nga Isda, Ginamay, Utan Bisaya, Adobong Pina-uga and Escabeche. You will also find Initlogang Paliya, Tortang Talong and Kinilaw nga nangka. There will be a bandehado of Bam-i and Adoring Nukos. The soups are Pochero, Tinuwa nga Isda and Nilarang. All family favorites!
One New Year’s eve, our family went on a road trip which took us as far as Sumilon Island. Since this was a hurried decision ( meaning unplanned), we did not bring any food for the trip. I had this brilliant idea of eating all our meals in carenderias along the way. So we had breakfast in Carcar and lunch Dalaguete. The breakfast was Bas-uy and Adobo with steaming hot rice. Lunch was handmade pancit canton and Crispy pata. Right across our lunch venue were ladies selling Bibingka sa Dalaguete which was perfect for desert as this particular bibingka is extra sweet because it is slathered with latik.
We bought chicharron, torta and any delicacy we encountered in the towns leading to Oslob which is the jumping off point to Sumilon Island. This was a hassle free road trip and is in the collective culinary memory of the family.
On a recent trip to the Northwestern part of Cebu , I told my husband we should visit the Pilapil carenderia in Balamban. My friends and I have been eating in this place since the 1990’s when it was still a bamboo and nipa structure set in the edge of the Mangrove forest of the town. During high tide the water would come all the way underneath the floorboards and the Mangrove trees around it swayed with the breeze. Alas, the mangroves which sheltered the place are now gone. The town has reclaimed the whole area and the sight outside the window is now an oval and the huge bleachers of a sports facility.
We still go to this carenderia every now and then instead of eating in the ubiquitous national burger/chicken outlet in the next corner. No matter if the ambiance has changed so abruptly, it still serves Utan Bisaya redolent of Sangig (local Basil), Adobong Dalupapa ( giant squid), the now famous Balamban liempo, Ginamay, Inun-unan, Pochero and Bam-i. Nothing speaks more eloquently of the Cebuano culinary experience than a bowl of steaming hot Utan Bisaya!
The month of April has recently been declared the National Food Month. Food writers ,historians and chefs in the National Capital Region have organised celebrations to mark this declaration. Writing about the carenderias is my little celebration of the food that has nourished Cebuanos for centuries – the Spaniards saw us eating adobo in the 16th century!